Medically reviewed by Zara Fullerton, Medical Content Advisor
Gluten-free bread, dairy-free milk, and even nut-free peanut butter - the availability of foods suitable for those living with a food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity is rising, and according to recent studies, so are food intolerances . So, how do you know if you are one of the many people worldwide living with food intolerance? Enter food intolerance testing.
In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about food intolerance (or sensitivity) testing, including its reliability, the controversies surrounding this type of testing, and recommendations if you suspect you have a food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity.
As always, it’s important to follow up with your healthcare provider as they are best placed to provide medical advice based on your individual situation.
- What is a Food Intolerance?
- What are the Different Types of Food Intolerance Tests?
- What are the Limitations of Food Intolerance Tests?
- Is There an Alternative to Food Intolerance Testing?
What is a Food Intolerance?
A food intolerance describes difficulty digesting certain foods or ingredients in food. Food intolerances are estimated to affect up to 20% of the population but, as symptoms can vary, diagnosis and management can be complicated .
Some of the most common symptoms of food sensitivity include:
- Stomach or tummy pain
Dairy products, caffeine, and products containing gluten are just some foods that can cause a reaction in someone with food intolerance.
What are the Different Types of Food Intolerance Tests?
A food intolerance test alleges to provide the answers you need to your unexplained symptoms, with claims that a blood sample or several hairs can help identify the foods that are causing you discomfort.
Several types of at-home tests claim to identify food sensitivities, the following are some of the most common:
IgG testing: IgG (Immunoglobulin G) testing is one of the most popular food sensitivity tests available online and in stores. It measures IgG antibodies against various foods in your blood. Elevated IgG levels in a particular food are interpreted as a sign of sensitivity. The reliability and clinical significance of IgG testing has been a subject of controversy among healthcare professionals .
Hair analysis: Hair analysis tests claim to identify food sensitivities and identify foods that may be causing symptoms by analyzing mineral content in hair samples. There is limited scientific evidence to support this testing process .
What are the Limitations of Food Intolerance Tests?
Do food intolerance tests do what they claim? Not exactly. According to experts, food intolerance and food sensitivity tests aren’t entirely accurate as they are not based on scientific evidence. Because of this, LetsGetChecked chooses not to offer home food sensitivity testing.
Some of the key points of debate surrounding the topic include:
Lack of standardization: There is no standard, universally accepted test for food sensitivities. Different labs offer different tests, and results can vary widely. This lack of standardization raises concerns about the accuracy and reliability of these tests.
False positives: It is common for food sensitivity tests to produce false-positive results (this means the test can show positive even when you are not really allergic to the food being tested) . This means they may incorrectly identify problem foods, leading individuals to unnecessarily eliminate certain food groups from their diets.
Lack of clinical evidence: Many healthcare professionals argue that food sensitivity tests lack enough clinical evidence to support their use . In fact, higher levels of IgG4 may simply indicate a tolerance to those foods.
IgG testing: Due to the lack of evidence to support its use, many organizations, including the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology have recommended against using IgG testing to diagnose food allergies or food intolerances/sensitivities .
Related article: Four Health Tests and Check-ups Everyone Should Get Regularly
Is There an Alternative to Food Intolerance Testing?
If you are experiencing digestive discomfort and unpleasant symptoms that are impacting your day-to-day life, the first step is to see a healthcare professional. They may refer you to a food and nutrition specialist for further support. They may carry out specific tests, check your medical history, and perform a physical exam to rule out any other conditions that cause similar symptoms to food intolerance.
As part of their evaluation, they may recommend trialing an elimination diet - this involves eliminating specific foods that may potentially be triggering your symptoms. It’s important to work with your healthcare provider when changing your diet, to ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs.
Related article: Why am I so Tired? 6 Common Causes of Fatigue
Experiencing symptoms of a food intolerance? Speak with a medical professional who will be able to help diagnose your condition and get you on track to feeling yourself again.
If after consulting with your healthcare provider you find that your symptoms are not a result of food intolerance, you can gain key insights into your general health with LetsGetChecked’s range of Health and Wellness Tests including our Celiac Test, and Micronutrient Testing. Online results will be available within 2-5 days, and our dedicated medical team will be available to advise you on the best next steps for you.
- JAMA Netw Open. Prevalence and Severity of Food Allergies Among US Adults. Online: Jamanetwork.com
- Nutrients. Food Intolerances. Online: Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. The Myth of IgG Food Panel Testing. Online: Aaaai.org
- HSE. Food allergy. Online: Hse.ie
- FARE. Blood tests. Online: Foodallergy.org
- Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol. CSACI Position statement on the testing of food-specific IgG. Online: Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov